Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Xmas eve resentment

Yes, I shall admit to resenting, big time, that I had to spend an hour today working on the journal because of a problem with production that I was alerted to today. Today. Christmas Eve. Unbelievable.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

geek heaven, and marijuana

Am in Geek Heaven. I recently purchased a wireless remote pond thermometer. These things are hard to come by (ok, so they’re a niche item...) and so when I found one, I couldn’t stop myself and I hit that ‘buy’ button like my life depended on it. Didn’t notice that the rest of the website was devoted to drug paraphernalia. Turns out, the guy sells all sorts of precision balances (you can guess why), and evidently thermometers and balances go hand in hand. You’d have thought I’d have been tipped off by the name of the website: (actually, it was linked to from the equally tell-tale site So it was with some relief that I actually received the thing. And now I can tell at a glance, and from the warmth of my living room, just how cold the fish are... I should add that I think that the canvas RIZLA+ bag is rather attractive...

More upmarket, but equally nerdy, is the watch that Silvia has bought me for Xmas. Titanium, and very thin. I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. Here’s what it looks like:

Yes: it only has one hand. How cool is that? I’ve not actually opened the box in which it arrived - I’ve decided to wait to open it in front of my family, so that they can gaze upon it in collective wonder... more likely, though, they’ll utter a collective ‘wtf?’

So Xmas is upon us. The tree’s up, the lights are on, the turkey’s booked (I so hate turkey, but hey... it is Christmas), and the presents are... oh. I guess I’d best go and buy some...

And in case I don’t actually do anything of bloggable interest between now and then. HAPPY XMAS!

Friday, 5 December 2008


It’s late Friday afternoon. After a marathon two weeks I’ve cleared a ton of papers at the journal. The queues had built up because of various trips (Chicago and Geneva/Lausanne). But as of a few minutes ago, there were no more papers requiring an editorial decision (accept/revise/reject/etc), and no more papers that needed to go out to review. Of course, come Monday that will all change. But at least I can breath a sigh of relief and look forward to a weekend during which I can remind myself of the other things in my life.

But before I do that: 396 is the number of manuscripts this year which I have designated “accept” or “reject”. So given that today is the 340th day in the year (apparently), that means that I’m making an accept/reject decision more than once each day. I have also made, in those 340 days, 194 “revise” decisions (some of those ended up coming back and becoming “accept” or “reject” decisions). Fortunately, help is on the way. There’s beer cooling in the fridge.

Not in the fridge, but cooling just as effectively, is the pond. The fish are enjoying a spot of hibernation, or whatever it is that fish do when it’s so cold that they just float motionless at the bottom of the iced-over pond. Actually, they don’t hibernate - their metabolism just slows down to a rate approximating my own... And in fact, the pond isn’t quite iced-over - it’s amazing how many holes can be poked in the ice by an over-active 11-yr old. Just as well, though, as a fully-iced over pond isn’t good for the fish. I’m not sure that all the noise made by banging through the ice is much better for them, though...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

home & away, and home again

Ok - this is it. No more travelling for a couple of months. I’m fed up with it. Am on a train back from Geneva, having only a couple of days previously got back from Chicago. I’d gone over to Geneva to talk to a bunch of graduate students from three different universities about academic publishing, and how understanding the job of the editor and reviewers can increase the chances of getting a paper accepted. I really enjoyed putting together the talk, as it allowed me to describe my job as editor - the talks I usually give are all about my research, and yet the biggest drain on my life-work balance is the journal, so it was actually nice to be able to talk about that. They gave me a fantastically impressive bottle of wine as a ‘thank you’. Sadly, I couldn’t bring it home in my hand baggage (I always travel light). So whoever cleaned my hotel room last night will hopefully enjoy it on my behalf...

Chicago was good. Slightly traumatic as I have a problem recognizing faces and recalling names, and for some reason, I was particularly debilitated this time around. It had nothing to do with the 4 large glasses of wine, 5 huge martinis, 2 equally huge Margaritas, 6 regular beers, 1 medium Sake, and whatever else I can’t remember drinking over the course of 4 nights. And I’m glad to report that it wasn’t me who fell off his chair (his Jack Spade was undamaged, I believe - unlike his reputation...). There were several highlights: eating at Boka, having coffee on the 96th floor of the Hancock Building (which is cheaper than paying to take the elevator to the observation platform, which is only 4 floors above the café), meeting up with old friends. Oh... the science wasn’t bad either!

And to end this post on a sad note. The last time I went to Geneva, back in April, the hard drive on my MacBook Air failed. This time, the MBA worked flawlessly. More flawed, however, was my iPhone; the mute switch detached itself in my hand within moments of arriving. It must be something about all that alpine air...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

TVs in lifts... whatever next?

Evidently the pace of life in Chicago is such that even the short ride in the lift (“elevator”) to the foyer (“lobby”) would be incomplete without all the latest news updates streamed to a small TV embedded into the wall. Or maybe folk get stuck in the lift so often that the TV is there to provide entertainment while a rescue team is put together. If it were me, and I were stuck in a lift, I think I’d swap the TV for a W.C...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Obama couldn't have done it without me.

That’s a complete lie. I’m just curious to see whether the number of hits to my page go up because I put the term ‘Obama’ in there. According to today’s Google statistics, there are 216 million web pages with ‘Obama’ compared to 230 million with ‘Bush’. Given that the word “bush” can mean countless other things, it’s not surprising that Bush outranks Obama on Google. But seeing as George Bush has been US president for 8 years, and Obama’s only been in the public eye for a year or so, it’s pretty telling. And to put this in further perspective: “Barack Obama” - 105 million pages vs. “George Bush” - 22.7 million pages. I’m not making a political statement here - I simply wonder why the US electorate felt compelled to go through all that effort, and all those dollars, when they could have just googled the candidates and gotten the same outcome...

Next week I get to experience the delights of transatlantic travel once again - traveling to Chicago for a big conference. And three days after I get back, I’m off to Switzerland. I do worry that the journal may suffer - I can make editorial decisions when I travel, but it’s impossible to send papers to review, so inevitable delays build up. I’ve been looking at this year’s statistics: This year alone I’ve sent over 300 papers to review, and have made over 500 editorial decisions. Collectively (myself and the Associate Editors), we reject between 25% and 30% of submitted manuscripts without sending them out to review, and we only accept for publication around 10% of submitted manuscripts. So fewer than 15% of manuscripts which are sent to review are accepted. It exhausts me just thinking about all this. I need a break. Or a medal. Or just a little more time in each day.

Not much else to report - the leaves fall as fast as I can rake them up and the fish are slowly becoming more and more immobile as the water temperature drops and the days become darker. I fear I am myself becoming more fish-like each day...

Sunday, 2 November 2008

bruised, battered, and relaxed...

Am just back from a week’s intensive karate training interrupted only by fine food, remarkably decent beer, and a bomb scare.

The training was inspiring, although I ended up with bruises on parts of my body that I don’t recall ever being hit. Other attendees included a computer vision scientist, a toxicologist, an airline pilot, a brain surgeon, a software developer, a builder, a PhD student, various children, and others whose professions I never managed to establish because I was too busy trying to hit them...

So now that I’ve been re-invigorated by all that adrenalin (and probably testosterone too), I’m ready once again to do battle with the forces of evil journal.

Sunday, 19 October 2008


I’ve been unfaithful. To this blog, that is. I’ve joined Facebook. I’m completely confused by what’s public and what isn’t, what my ‘wall’ is, what ‘friends’ expect from their friendship with me, and what the correct etiquette is when someone invites you to be their friend but, not knowing who they are, you decide you don’t really want to exchange virtual hugs or kisses with them. Fortunately, I have a mere 16 friends; a rather feeble number compared to the 150+ that some of my friends have. But it’s still early days, and perhaps I can get that 16 up to 20...

In my occasional series of Tips for Prospective Authors at the Journal I Edit, I have the following advice to offer, based on a real-life incident: If at a dinner, at which I’m absent, you happen to meet any members of my immediate family, avoid berating them for any editorial misdemeanors you feel you may have suffered. It’s not their fault! Actually, it’s probably not my fault either.

Finally, things you don’t want to hear as you think you’ve just landed at Washington DC: “Welcome to Dallas”. Fortunately, it turned out that I’d landed in the right place, but with the wrong pronunciation. The airport’s called Dulles.

And now... back to Facebook, where I’ve apparently been ‘poked’. Yum.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

I've joined the dark side...

It’s finally happened. There I was, allowing a visiting friend to entertain me, when I was introduced to the marvel that is Facebook. So I registered. Well... I tried to register... the system sends an email to you to verify you want to register, and when you click the link, you’re on. Evidently, my presence on Facebook is not meant to be, because the email server I use, courtesy of my work, decided to call it a day, and shut itself down. So Facebook will have to wait...

Am still not convinced that Facebook is where I want to be. The idea that one has to beg people one hardly knows to become one’s “friend” fills me with dread. And what if the people one
does know say “no”? So on the assumption that I would be the only person likely to look at my entry, photo and all, wouldn’t it just be easier for me to look in the mirror?

Who knows, perhaps the lure of a new technology will prove too irresistible, and I will become an addict - posting near-instant updates of my current activity for my imaginary friends to read.

But until then, am off to Washington (DC) for a couple of days. Bye.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

of rain, iPhones, and Budgens

Am just back from yet another conference. This time, in Southampton. I’m sure Southampton has some redeeming features other than its university. Couldn’t find them, though... Mind you, it was hard to see anything through the incessant rain...

My last post, which detailed a bunch of significant life changes over the past 3 years, failed to mention my new iPhone 3G. I’ll forget my own children next... My mother, as it happens, did once forget me: Left me in my pram outside the local Budgens. Got all the way home (a few blocks away) before realizing. Needless to say, I have no recollection of that brief moment in which I was less memorable than a bag of shopping...

Not much else to say for myself... am looking forward to a couple of weeks’ stay in York before my next trip. A time to relax. And to manage the journal, and write reviews for NIH...

Sunday, 7 September 2008

the human condition

The human condition (well.... my condition) is not unlike the pond filter that I cleaned out today. You fill up with gunk, and the only way to really get rid of it is to dismantle the whole thing, clean out all the festering sludge, carefully re-assemble it, and watch patiently as it starts to function again. And whereas before, what came out of it was a kind of soupy mess, what comes out now is clean and pure, and able to support a habitat the occupants of which are oblivious to the great cleansing drama that has just taken place outside of their immediate experience.

Yeah right. But I have stopped eating biscuits and chocolate, and I did today manage to do up the top button on a pair of jeans into which I haven’t managed to fit for way too long. The great cleansing has begun...

Five weeks ago (my last post) I was about to go on holiday. Which I did. It was fantastic. I came back all charged up... and promptly got depressed the moment I stepped foot into the office. But a few weeks later, and life is good again. The journal isn’t spiralling out of control, the kids are back into their usual term-time routine, the conference season has started again, and now that the summer is almost over it can finally stop raining and the sun can come out.

I’m in fact just back from a conference in Cambridge (the UK one - not the Massachusetts one). These days, going to a conference is as much about meeting up with old friends as it is about learning about the latest research or getting feedback on one’s own. So it’s nice to realize that I have a life beyond (the website at which I manage the journal). And it’s nice to be reminded, as I write this, that there are a whole bunch of people out there, with whose lives my own occasionally makes contact, whom I wish I could thank... just for making that contact. Some of them, if they read this, would know who they are. But equally, some of them would have no idea that I include them also.

Two days ago was this blog’s third birthday. Looking back, it does astonish me how much my life has changed in these 3 years. The most significant of the changes, in no particular order, include:
  • the house
  • the pond (twice)
  • advancing through several grades at Karate
  • a new messenger bag, made from the finest Italian leather with the finest Italian craftmanship (but not a Jack Spade... so apparently I’m still not hip enough. But at $195, I’ll leave the Jack Spades to Brian...)
  • the journal
  • new friends (and some almost lost friends)
  • new students
  • new postdocs
  • new data
  • new publications
  • zillions of trips to Washington
  • and enough stress which, if harnessed, would power a small town...

Saturday, 2 August 2008

pre-flight checklist

Things to get done before 12 days’ vacation in Italy with the family...
  • clear queues at the journal of all submitted manuscripts waiting to go out to review. done
  • clear queues at the journal of all manuscripts for which reviews are in and decisions to accept/reject are required. done
  • stop thinking about how much more I could have done if I’d not been going on holiday. done
  • stop thinking about how much more I’ll have to do when I get back from holiday. done
  • stop worrying about things I could have done better to prepare for the holiday. not done
  • stop worrying about things I could have done better. not done
  • cut grass at the last minute, before it rains. done
  • pack clothes, sun cream, hat, swimsuit, another hat. done
  • pack chargers for ipod, phone, satnav, camera, computer, and countless other gadgets that have now become essential accompaniments to travel. done
  • treat pond for algae, feed fish, show next door’s kids where the fish food’s kept. done
  • pick up kids. done
  • pick up kids’ passports. not done
  • pick up kids’ passports. now done

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Martial arts in the office

Ok - it was a stupid thing to do. The likelihood that nothing would be broken was surely close to zero. But when someone asked me what the hardened conkers were for, on one of my bookshelves, I foolishly said that they were so I could practice dodging bullets, and even more foolishly said that if they were thrown at me I would be able to deflect them with the reflexes of a pouncing tiger (ok... so I did not say that, but it was something along those lines). Oddly, this person whom I would normally admire and respect proceeded to throw these things across the room at my head. By “throw” I actually mean “hurl at meteoric speed” - bullets would scarcely have travelled faster. But true to my word, I rather impressively deflected the things while I calmly sat in my chair (I was calm only because I didn’t actually have the time to quake with fear). It was only moments later, after these missiles had been deflected in all directions, that I realized that all the fragile objects in my office, including my computer screen (it was inches from my head), were miraculously intact and unbroken.
There’s a very successful social psychologist called James Pennebaker. He’s well known for showing that by analyzing the language someone uses, you can tell an awful lot about the writer - things like sex (gender, that is), age, social class, professional status, and state of mind (e.g. depression). I often wonder whether he, or anyone else come to that, has looked at the frequency with which people contribute to their own blogs and whether that correlates with anything. My guess is that the more frequent the posts, the better you feel, and that fluctuations in frequency reflect either ill-health (physical or mental) or (less likely for workaholics like me) holiday. So... when I’ve not posted for a while, feel sorry for me....

Unless I have misremembered who it was, I once found myself sitting next to James Pennebaker on a flight to the US. He gave me his copy of “Running with Scissors” (he’d just finished reading it - it’s not like he carried a stash of them around to give out to strangers). I’m ashamed to say I had absolutely no idea who he was until I googled him when I got back to York. But he’ll have had no idea who I was either. So we’re quits. Except that I guess, technically-speaking, I’m up one book. And a good book at that.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Friday the 13th

Friday 13th doesn’t sound like an auspicious day to fly, but that’s what I tried to do - didn’t quite manage it, though... Was about to fly back to the UK from Washington, DC, but no sooner had we all settled down on the plane than we were told that we had to ‘deplane’. Apparently they’d forgotten to do a security sweep, with the result that we actually took off on Friday 14th. Not that I’m superstitious....

I really like this constructive use of ‘deplane’. From now on I shall, when I arrive at work, ‘decar’; my students will ‘deoffice’, and my children, because they are tired of the responsibility of having to grow up, will be encouraged instead to ‘dechild’. And anyone I don’t like can just go decelibate.

oops, have I just overstepped the mark of decency? I don’t think so; after all, I was merely making a comment on the linguistic potential of United Airline speak.

Speaking of which (I shall leave the reader to figure out which of the above I am referring to), here is another tip for prospective authors submitting papers to the journal I edit: If you are asked to make changes, and you don’t, and you then feel sufficiently aggrieved at receiving a rejection letter that you feel an urgent need to write to the Editor questioning his professional competence, integrity, and maternal ancestry, do make sure that if you are going to sign your letter with the names of your co-authors, they are aware that, on their behalf, you called the Editor an incompetent imbecile of indeterminate genetic stock. They may not necessarily share your views, and may one day wish to submit something of their own to the journal, in which case it would be a shame if mud had stuck.

It must be the jetlag, but I swear my sentences are longer, more convoluted, and generally less comprehensible than normal. It’s definitely time to deblog.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Sample Cover Letter for Journal Manuscript Resubmissions

by Roy F. Baumeister

Dear Sir, Madam, or Other:

Enclosed is our latest version of Ms # 85-02-22-RRRRR, that is, the re-re-re-revised revision of our paper. Choke on it. We have again rewritten the entire manuscript from start to finish. We even changed the goddamn running head! Hopefully we have suffered enough by now to satisfy even you and your bloodthirsty reviewers.

I shall skip the usual point-by-point description of every single change we made in response to the critiques. After all, it is fairly clear that your reviewers are less interested in details of scientific procedure than in working out their personality problems and sexual frustrations by seeking some kind of demented glee in the sadistic and arbitrary exercise of tyrannical power over helpless authors like ourselves who happen to fall into their clutches. We do understand that, in view of the misanthropic psychopaths you have on your editorial board, you need to keep sending them papers, for if they weren’t reviewing manuscripts they’d probably be out mugging old ladies or clubbing baby seals to death. Still, from this batch of reviewers, C was clearly the most hostile, and we request that you not ask him or her to review this revision. Indeed, we have mailed letter bombs to four or five people we suspected of being reviewer C, so if you send the manuscript back to them the review process could be unduly delayed.

Some of the reviewers’ comments we couldn’t do anything about. For example, if (as review C suggested) several of my recent ancestors were indeed drawn from other species, it is too late to change that. Other suggestions were implemented, however, and the paper has improved and benefited. Thus, you suggested that we shorten the manuscript by 5 pages, and we were able to accomplish this very effectively by altering the margins and printing the paper in a different font with a smaller typeface. We agree with you that the paper is much better this way.

One perplexing problem was dealing with suggestions #13-28 by Reviewer B. As you may recall (that is, if you even bother reading the reviews before doing your decision letter), that reviewer listed 16 works that he/she felt we should cite in this paper. These were on a variety of different topics, none of which had any relevance to our work that we could see. Indeed, one was an essay on the Spanish-American War from a high school literary magazine. The only common thread was that all 16 were by the same author, presumably someone whom Reviewer B greatly admires and feels should be more widely cited. To handle this, we have modified the Introduction and added, after the review of relevant literature, a subsection entitled “Review of Irrelevant Literature” that discusses these articles and also duly addresses some of the more asinine suggestions in the other reviews.

We hope that you will be pleased with this revision and will finally recognize how urgently deserving of publication this work is. If not, then you are an unscrupulous, depraved monster with no shred of human decency. You ought to be in a cage. May whatever heritage you come from be the butt of the next round of ethnic jokes. If you do accept it, however, we wish to thank you for your patience and wisdom throughout this process and to express our appreciation of your scholarly insights. To repay you, we would be happy to review some manuscripts for you; please send us the next manuscript that any of these reviewers submits to your journal.

Assuming you accept this paper, we would also like to add a footnote acknowledging your help with this manuscript and to point out that we liked the paper much better the way we originally wrote it but you held the editorial shotgun to our heads and forced us to reshuffle, restate, hedge, expand, shorten, and in general convert a meaty paper into stir-fried vegetables. We couldn’t, or wouldn’t, have done it without your input.


[This was sent to me a couple of years ago, when I took over as Editor-in-Chief of Cognition. I wrote to Roy to establish the provenance of this piece (and to ask permission to reproduce it here), and he told me this was written over 20 years ago, "I wrote it to work out some of my own frustrations with the review process back then. I think it is my most widely read publication, and not even listed on my CV!"]

Thursday, 15 May 2008

this isn't a blog - this is therapy.

Things I must remember to do when I have more time: damn, I've forgotten what one does when one has more time.

Various remedies I have tried with the intention of rediscovering the many uses of spare time: chocolate, a 32" HD LCD TV, an HD DVD recorder, more chocolate, the lawnmower, consulting to Nestlé to help them make chocolate more efficiently, looking through the local phone book with my children searching for people with funny names (our thanks to the Rev. W.Ankers), de-algaefying the pond, ice cream, making up words for removing algae from the pond, more chocolate (a lot more - thanks to Nestlé), beer, waking up way too early in the mornings...

Truth is, I spend too much time working. But, it has its rewards. So I shall indulge myself and just write down some statistics about the journal I edit: submissions are up 25% since when I took over 2 years ago. But most likely nothing to do with me. But it means that this year so far, I have sent around 150 manuscripts out to review, and have made around 220 editorial decisions. That means that, one way or another, I've dealt with almost three manuscripts each day, 7 days a week... boy, I so deserved that tv...(though I forgot, when I bought it, that I wouldn't have time to watch it...). I currently take on just over 50% of the submissions coming in to the journal, with the remainder being shared out amongst 4 Associate Editors (another will join soon). And their loads, although a whole bunch less than mine, are still above the industry standard. So it's hard work for all of us. Still, I do get some research done, so I have also, this year, written an article that I've just submitted (to a different journal), co-written an article which should be submitted within days (to yet another journal), and almost finished an article that's also going to go off soon (though this one has been on my desk for almost TWO years). So life could be worse. Though if it were, I wouldn't have the time to notice...

A tip for prospective authors sending in manuscripts to the journal: If it's a revised version of a previously submitted manuscript, make sure you turn off the comments facility in your word processor - if you don't, we'll get to see them; I very much enjoyed reading, recently, the comments in the margins of one such manuscript - evidently, the senior author didn't think much of one of the reviewers, and wrote this as a comment to the more junior author. The comment included the suspicion that the editor would in any case be unlikely to notice that they hadn't changed that section...

A final, serious, note. All this work does take its toll, and I think the people whom I am privileged to work with, and with whom I share so much of my life, have to put up with a lot. I wouldn't be able to do this without their support, professionally and personally.

postscript: I know.... another whiny post. But it was this or nothing.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Back's back...

It's been a relatively quiet time recently. Interrupted only by the drone of the rhythmic mantra going round and round inside my head: work work Work work work Work work work Work. Occasional Sleep.

Back is better. Air is working (my MacBook Air, that is), and best of all, I passed my Karate grading and I am now a 1st Kyu Karateka ("Karateka" = Karate Dude). 1st Kyu means that my next grading will take me to Black Belt. But that next grading won't happen for quite a while!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Air-less and Back-less

What I failed to say, in respect of my journey back from Geneva being marred by all sorts of things (including religious fanaticism), was that I had also hurt my back very badly, and I am still on industrial-strength (prescription) pain-killers. Not helped by the fact that this afternoon I must suffer 4 hours on a train to Oxford, coming back tomorrow. I'm examining a thesis there. Tip to any prospective students intending me to be their external examiner: If you're going to refer to my work, spell my name right!

And for anyone who thinks I don't work hard enough on the journal: I've just seen that in the first 3 months of this year, I've made 145 editorial decisions (only 17 were 'accept'!). I love the journal, I really do.... but there's a cost to all this - I'm behind on a paper that's only 50% written, and a paper that's 95% written, and a paper that's 100% written (I need to revise the draft). I guess I'm also behind on another paper that's 0% written. So all this work enabling other people to publish is interfering with my own ability to publish. This is the supreme academic sacrifice. I really do believe that I deserve that 32" flat-screen TV that I secretly covet...!

Enough whining. It's Spring. The grass is growing, the fish are eating, the birds are mating, and it's snowing.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

MacBook Air-less

So there I was, sitting at a desk in Geneva the afternoon before I was due to give a talk, preparing away, when the computer froze, never to start up again. The hard drive (or most likely the controller on the logic board) gave up the ghost, and ceased to function. I've run all the diagnostics, and so far as they are all concerned (and this includes some clever remote startup across a wireless network) there is no hard drive inside the machine. Funny that, as it still weighs the same... Still... it could have been worse. It could have died on me during the talk. I can at least thank Apple for that...

So the trip back was marred by being unable to work, and by the extra weight of all the chocolate I brought back. And the sight of two orthodox somethings-or-other asking to be reseated in the plane because their religion did not permit them to sit next to women...

Saturday, 29 March 2008

I know... I know...

Ok - so it's a long time since I had anything to say for myself. Since last having anything to say, I've been to Glasgow (UK), Chapel Hill (USA), Oxford (UK), Sainsburys (UK), and assorted other places. Made editorial decisions on 35 papers, and sent a bunch more out to review, and generally despaired at my workload. But the University eventually came through, after many many hours of argument, and agreed that the money associated with my 3-yr fellowship would be given to the department so they could replace me and relieve me of teaching and administration for the 3 years. So at least that's sorted. Unlike my suitcase, which is still empty, and needs filling before I leave later for Manchester Airport en route to Geneva. I must be mad. Not least because of the huge quantities of chocolate I have promised to bring back with me. If I wasn't so tired, I'm sure I'd have other stuff to report, but for now, I can only think that the kids are fine, the pond's working, the house is warm, Silvia's playing the piano, and I'm only about 20 manuscripts behind... that's not so bad, is it?

The really sad thing about my life? If Apple did the decent thing and released a 3G iPhone next week (which I will buy the very millisecond it's announced), I wouldn't have any time in which to play with the thing. Now that would be bad.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

earthquakes and martial arts

Got woken up just before 1am by the house shaking. Jamie (now 10) got up too, so evidently I wasn't dreaming. Turns out it was the UK's largest earthquake in 25 years ('large' is relative - it was 5.3 on the Richter scale).

A number of people know that I'm an avid fan of Karate. So you can imagine my reaction, some months ago, when I read that the MP with responsibility for sport and culture believed that boxing should be introduced to all schools. Somehow, that's going to make children feel more empowered and put an end to the juvenile crime that is apparently sweeping the country like some unchecked viral epidemic. My personal view is that boxing is a brutal and ill-disciplined sport. It also causes severe brain damage, making deformed ears and noses the least of a boxer's concerns... So.... one Saturday morning, in a moment of boredom, I sent an email to this MP and suggested that boxing was not fit for said purpose, but that if he was serious about trying to teach respect and responsibility through sport, martial arts such as Karate would be better suited. I think that my email must have been misunderstood, because yesterday I received a long reply extolling the virtues of boxing over the marital arts.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

MacBook Air

My MacBook Air arrived. It's so lickable. And it comes with a useful cleaning cloth with which to wipe it down after you've licked it...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

If I weren't laughing I'd have to cry

So... I wrote a fellowship proposal 10 months ago than went to ESRC (one of the UK research councils). I was lucky. I was awarded the fellowship (all told, it's worth £370,000 over 3 years). The fellowship pays my salary and some other stuff. The expectation was that the money would pay for a temporary 3-year lecturer to take over my teaching and administration, and that the leftover could pay for a research assistant as well. There's also money in there for a 3-yr PhD studentship and a bunch of equipment. But here's the rub: The University of York (my employer) have told my department that none of the fellowship money will be passed on to them to pay for a replacement for me. Essentially, the university will keep the fellowship money, and my department will have to struggle on without a penny with which to replace me. Unless something changes in the next few weeks, I shall have little option but to write to ESRC and turn down the fellowship on the grounds that my department cannot afford it. It means that the university could lose out on monies that would have, in any other university, paid for that 3-yr replacement lecturer, that 3-yr research assistant, and that PhD student.

If I ever end up writing that letter, turning down the fellowship, a letter of resignation to my vice chancellor will most likely follow.

ok - I whine too much. I admit it.

UPDATE: A couple of days later, the head finance guy phoned me up to allay my fears. In all fairness to him, he was very nice about it all. Apparently, it will most likely work out ok, it's just not clear when the money will be given to the department. One hopes in time to employ my replacement and the research assistant... Still, I shouldn't have to deal with this kind of thing; it's bad enough trying to convince reviewers and grant agencies to fund our research without having to then spend even more time than it took to get the grant in the first place trying to persuade the university to pass the funds on.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

my whiny blog...

I admit it - my posts tend to be rather whiny, as a friend pointed out. And that same friend pointed out that I shouldn't feel guilty about the journal. After all, Since Jan 1st, I've made 70+ editorial decisions and sent 50+ papers out to review. I've also come back from South America, gone to North America, terminated one mole, installed the new eye-tracker, had my credit card details stolen, and been ill with influenza. What's there to whine about? That I haven't yet managed to write the paper that was due Feb 1st? A minor detail, that... Fact is, I provide a quality service and deserve a medal.

Perhaps if I repeated that last sentence a few million times I'd eventually believe it...

Actually: despite the odd hiccup at the journal, I think that I, and the associate editors, do a fantastic job. I genuinely believe that. It's just that I like to whine about all the other things I'd like to do but find hard to get done in the time that's left over. Perhaps if I spent less time whining...

Saturday, 16 February 2008

someone's stolen my identity!

Well... not quite. But my credit card details. There I was, browsing my credit card statement online, as one does on a peaceful Saturday morning, when I thought to myself: "oh look, 9 separate payments over a 6-day period to EasyJet - I wonder where I'm going, and who with..". And then a couple of £700 insurance payments and various prepay minutes to phone companies I don't subscribe to... all totaling just short of £3000. Phoned up my credit card company, who were amazingly helpful, and didn't question even once the possibility that I might have simply forgotten that I'd made 9 separate payments to EasyJet... new card is in the post, old card is already cut up...

I wouldn't mind, really, but if someone's going to steal even a part of my identity, they could at least edit a paper or two while they're about it...

Friday, 15 February 2008

my immune system...

... is on vacation - sadly, I am not on vacation, and I wish it would come back. Am in bed with 'flu-like symptoms. Can't possibly be 'flu as I had a 'flu jab in October. But hey - if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, flies like a duck, and tastes like duck, it's a duck, right? So it's 'flu. Plain and simple.

My first thought as I woke up with fever and aches all over (even my feet ached) was: it's Friday, and Fridays are spent working on the journal (as are weekends and Monday afternoons). This was a catastrophe. The thought that I might actually sleep the 'flu off didn't survive more than a few milliseconds, despite my body telling me that that is what it needed to do... so have been working from my bed, sending out papers to review, and dealing with various other issues. And I feel guilty that I haven't done more. It is a sad indictment of my life that I feel guilty that I am unable to work on the journal because I'm ill. And most likely, it's working on the journal in the first place that has contributed to the suppression of my immune system.

:( Hmph...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

somewhere over the rainbow...

... well, over the Atlantic (again). Have decided to write down my thoughts on the passing of time:

It's SO SLOW..

I've just looked at my watch, having written 6 decision letters, and there's still SEVEN hours of flight to go. I'm exhausted. No amount of coffee or United Airlines goodwill is going to get me through the next 7 hours. The guy sitting next to me has a very clever screen protector on his PC which means that he can see what's on his screen (and mine, I suppose, if he cared to look), but I cannot see what's on his from this angle. The fact that he has to insert a plastic passkey into the machine to use it makes me think that whatever it is, it must be really interesting, and just the kind of thing that, were I to read it, would make those 6 hours and 58 minutes pass all the quicker...

6 hours and 47 minutes to go... and time isn't speeding up. My eyelids are definitely heavier than they were before. The guy in the seat next to me is doing gymnastic exercises in his seat... Am curious about his screen... what's he got to hide?

6 hours and 32 minutes to go... I can't go on like this. Some turbulence would be good, just to break up the monotony of working on the journal uninterrupted. I have important decisions to make as I read through manuscripts and reviewers' comments: Should I keep listening to Chopin (soporific value: High; intellectual value: High) or switch to Sting (soporific value: Low; intellectual value: Medium; Carbon emissions: Excellent)? It's not easy being an editor... but I do feel I need to change the music, as the chap next to me is now doing some silent, headphoned version of the jitterbug... what's HE listening to??

5 hours and 17 minutes left... Finally! Some excitement: Mr. Jitterbug went to the toilet, so being the curious person that I am, I took the opportunity to surreptitiously open up his laptop (passkey still inserted) and take a look at what he'd been writing. Evidently, he's a civil servant of some kind (it was that boring..). And I think he could do with a bit of help with his grammar... OH COME ON.. do you really think I'd open up his laptop when he wasn't looking, let alone advertise that fact on my blog? Honestly.... what do you take me for? Get real - it was a PC, and as a Mac evangelist I wouldn't touch a PC with a barge-pole....

4 hours and 10 minutes left... current rejection rate on this flight, for 1st submissions sent out to reviewers: 70%. Which sounds like it's a little short of the journal's average rejection rate of 85% - but 15-20% of submissions didn't even get sent to review, so under one interpretation of these numbers, I'm rejecting about the right number of papers.

2 hours and 30 minutes to go.. I have a streaming cold. Tissues are insufficient defense against the floodwaters emanating from my nostrils. I guess you neither needed, nor wanted, to know that. Chap in the next seat has now graduated from gymnastics to a form of ballet. Very impressive, really... either that or he's just trying to avoid the nasal torrent...


Thursday, 31 January 2008

It's life.. but not as we know it...

My life in 10 days:
  • Submitted my tax return with two days to spare
  • Tried to arrange for the new mortgage to start in time (it didn't)
  • Sent a bunch of papers out to review (but not nearly enough)
  • Made decisions on a bunch of papers (but not nearly enough - that'll teach me to take holiday over Xmas)
  • Submitted 7 grant reviews almost on time, but there never seems to be enough (time)
  • Set up most of my new eye-tracking lab (most of...but not all - you can guess what I ran out of)
  • Replied to one email, from someone I've never met, accusing me, as an editor, of gross negligence, unfair treatment, and unprofessionalism (I'd rejected their paper)
  • Replied to another email, from someone else I've never met, saying I'm possibly the best editor in the universe (not sure why this person said this, as I don't think I'd recently accepted anything of theirs, but they are a guaranteed friend for life...)
  • Worked till between midnight and 1am most nights to try and meet deadlines
  • Failed to meet all deadlines (except my tax submission - but hey, that'd have cost me dearly!)
  • Been elevated to Premier Executive status on United Airlines. I'm not sure what it means...
  • Replaced pump in pond, 'cos the old one (only 4 months old) broke. Well...almost... the new one is waiting to go in, but have to go to San Francisco first, for two (yes, just two) nights (for NIH). Thank you aquatics-online for replacing the pump in just two (yes, just two) days.
  • Wished I'd bought that bottle, in my dream, marked 'instant time - just add water and wait'.
  • Wished I'd bought that other bottle, in my dream, marked 'instant life - just add time and enjoy'

Friday, 18 January 2008

I wish I was still stuck in Sao Paolo...

Title says it all....

But actually, it was good to get back to the children, the karate training, and the people I care about... I'm fairly sure it was (and still is) not so good to get back to manuscripts screaming to be reviewed or actioned. But one consolation... no more mole. Poor thing. RIP.

Friday, 11 January 2008

flight cancelled

It's 3am in Sao Paolo. Flight from Buenos Aires to London was cancelled, and we've flown with a Chilean airline to Sao Paolo where a British Airways plane is due to leave in an hour or so for London. BA arranged, in Buenos Aires, to take all passengers to a supposedly 5-star hotel. I'd have knocked a star off for charging us for internet access! Waited 4 hours for a room (they had very little notice in which to make up around 100 rooms, so I'm not complaining). Got to the room, and within 10 minutes received a call telling us to get on a coach back to the airport. Didn't even have time to steal the toiletries! Got to the airport, where they checked us all in very efficiently, but forgot to tell us to ignore what it said on the boarding card and to go to a different gate at a different time with a different airline. But hey, at least we got to Sao Paolo. And as I write this, I can see the BA jumbo right in front of me on the other side of the glass window. Life is sweet down here in Brazil.... could do with some sleep, though...

Monday, 7 January 2008

Day 12

Evidently, 12 days is all it takes for me to decide I rather spend time with my computer than with nature... Or, it could be that I've nothing better to do in the 40-degree heat as I wait to dry off from a shower and go out for a meal. So here are some photos of my excursion into the Andes. For the sake of speedy download, I am posting only 4 of the 558 photos that iPhoto tells me I have taken. Of course, there are some duplicates (you know... you line up the shot, and just as you take it, the mountain moves or the river blinks, so you end up taking another shot once nature has settled down again), so probably we're talking a more realistic 500 or so photos. You're not really going to be interested in the stories behind the photos (all you need to know is that I had an amazing time - as much to do with being in the Andes as with being away from my office!), so here they are. I might post some more once I've got back. These were all taken near Bariloche, in Patagonia.

Tomorrow, we're off to Buenos Aires. It's even hotter there than here (Neuquén). Silvia has to pick up her hopefully renewed passport, and there's still much meat to be eaten, shoes to be bought, and tangos to be danced...

Thursday, 3 January 2008

The Andes

Am currently in a hotel in the Andes. I'd recommend the Andes, and the hotel, to anyone. Will post photos once I've decided I want to spend more time with my computer than I do with the Andes. Things I've done:
  • Driven 300 miles
  • Climbed the highest peak (I cheated - I took the chair lift)
  • Crossed one of the highest and deepest lakes in Argentina (I cheated - took a boat)
  • Bought ponchos for my kids.
  • Bought gifts for various friends.
  • Eaten more meat in a week than my stomach has had to deal with in a year. Thank you, Zantac, for seeing me through!
  • Drunk excellent wine.
  • Drunk lots of Maté.
  • Relaxed.
  • Relaxed some more.
  • Forgotten all those things that prevent me from relaxing.
  • Thought about all those people who make those things tolerable...